Jamie Vardy: England call-up 'doesn't feel real'

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England new boys hope to inspire

Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy says his call-up to the England squad "doesn't feel real".

The 28-year-old was included in the England squad for the first time last month and may make his debut against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday.

It caps a rapid rise for the Leicester player, who just six years ago was playing in the eighth tier of English football with Stocksbridge Park Steels.

"I had to pinch myself most days before I even got here," said Vardy.

"It doesn't feel real. But there's been a lot of hard work put into it. I've been given the chance now and hopefully I can take it."

Released by Sheffield Wednesday as a 16-year-old, Vardy almost gave up playing before resuming his career at non-league level, which he combined with working as a carbon-fibre technician.

The Jamie Vardy story
Released by Sheffield Wednesday as a 16-year-old because he was "too small".
Resumes his career at Stocksbridge Park Steels (while working as a carbon fibre technician), progressing from the under 18s to their second team and then the first team. Plays for six months with an electronic tag on his ankle after being convicted of assault.
Joins Halifax Town and scores 29 goals to help them win promotion to the Conference North - the sixth tier of English football.
Moves to Fleetwood Town in 2011 and scores 31 goals in 36 games. Is named the club's player of the season as they win promotion to the Football League.
Becomes non-league's first £1m player when he joins Leicester in May 2012. Scores 16 goals in his second season to help Leicester reach the Premier League.
Given his first England call-up in May 2015 after scoring five top-flight goals for the Foxes.

"My job involved making splints for disabled people with drop-foot," explained Vardy, who scored five goals for Leicester last season.

"We had to do a lot of lifting into hot ovens. We were lifting things hundreds of times a day and it was damaging my back."

During this time, Vardy was convicted of assault on a night out and was forced to wear an electronic tag, which created a problem for his football career.

"If the away games were too far I could only play for an hour," he said. "It was a case of hope that we were winning, take me off and I'd get straight in the car to make sure I was home in time. That was for six months."

Vardy recalls that playing with the tag did have its advantages, though.

Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin
Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin scored five and 18 goals respectively last season

"You could wear it like an ankle guard," added Vardy. "It would protect your ankles. There was no way of breaking it so you were fine."

Vardy is joined in the England squad for the friendly against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday and the Euro 2016 qualifier in Slovenia a week later by QPR forward Charlie Austin, another player who has risen from non-league football to receive a national call-up.

Six years ago, Austin - who was released by Reading as a 15-year-old - was turning out for part-timers Poole Town in the Wessex League and working as a bricklayer.

The 25-year-old scored 18 goals for QPR last season and a goal in England colours will make one group of Poole fans - who informed him before he left the club that they had placed a £155 bet at 50-1 on him scoring for his country - very happy.

"When they first placed the bet I said: 'Look, I think you're mad'," said Austin. "They're delighted for me to be called up and for their bet to have legs."

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